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Words that defined 2023

A Lounge roundup of standout words and phrases that anchored significant moments this year—and could very well seep into our everyday conversations going forward

Deepfakes are becoming a more common problem now.
Deepfakes are becoming a more common problem now. (iStockphoto.)

The word “rizz” generated all the buzz a few weeks ago, when Oxford University Press declared it their Word of the Year for 2023. Their website says that the winning candidate is usually one that “is judged to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year and to have lasting potential as a word of cultural significance”. Short for charisma, rizz started off indicating a certain appeal that could help attract romantic partners and later evolved to mean a whole lot more since—as the Oxford Languages site says, 2023 has been the year of much PR, and having rizz is the only way to command attention. Such evolution is the beauty of language, and Lounge’s list of words for 2023 reflects just this. At first glance, these words may seem like they were part of an evanescent moment; but repeating any of them does not lead to any semantic saturation—it only reinforces that new coinages are an important component of cultural flashpoints; and a great way to take stock of a year gone by.


Warning bells about the evils of Artificial Intelligence (AI), especially with regard to the consequences of the deepfake porn industry, have been rung aloud for a few years now. The likes of Natalie Portman and Emma Watson have been targeted before, but the tech really hit the fan in India in 2023,with actors Rashmika Mandanna and Alia Bhatt bearing the brunt of objectionable deepfakes of themselves going viral. In a report titled A Revealing Picture earlier this month, social media analytics company Graphika, said “AI undressing” has seen an uptick in use. Hey Siri, play John Mayer’s Stop This Train from the still-innocent aughts.


“May your year be filled with little joys,” sounds like a bad Hallmark card; so we can instead wish a loved one some “glimmers”—similar, unexpected joys that one can cherish completely, rather than seek out lasting, perfect happiness. Playing with a puppy, jigging to that Taylor Swift song—any of it can be a moment of glimmer, the “trigger” for a gentle happiness. The joy of finding and buying the perfect black shirt could also be a glimmer—obviously.


Since Ryan Gosling sang about Kenergy in Barbie, kenough (“Ken”+ “enough”) has denoted men rejecting toxic masculinity and feeling enough as they are.

Also read: How I stopped worrying about loving ‘Barbie’ and 'Oppenheimer'


When two epic events, entirely opposite in tone and aesthetics coincide, it’s a Barbenheimer moment. A portmanteau of the movie titles Barbie and Oppenheimer, it became a phenomenon following that double-bill weekend in July. In some memes, Barbenheimer, (aka Oppenbarbie) also denoted a peaceful coexistence of opposites.

Swifties in India held up traffic in Bengaluru to appeal Taylor Swift to perform in the country.
Swifties in India held up traffic in Bengaluru to appeal Taylor Swift to perform in the country.


The word has been around for a while, but Swifties in India made their presence felt this year, especially in October when they caused a traffic jam in Bengaluru. In a mass-appeal to get singer Taylor Swift to tour India, they did karaoke to her songs, even getting told off by the police and later, a hapless watchman. Internationally, Swift and her fandom “energized...local economy” as Time magazine said in its piece about their 2023 person of the year. Indian Swifties will have to make-do with Swiftie nights (popular community singalongs) till she hears their plea.


Gwyneth Paltrow in her interview to People magazine last month said that as her kids go off to college, she’d prefer to call herself a “Free Bird” and not an “Empty Nester”, which is “sad and lonely”. The spirit of reframing some life events is one of the better, non-Goopy things to learn from the actor.


LGBTQ+ rights and identities were in focus this year as the same-sex marriage hearings took place in the Supreme Court. Despite the disappointing judgement, conversations through this time spotlighted the word deadname when addressing why and how not to dismiss someone’s sense of self: used as a verb, deadname is the act of addressing a trans person with a name they abandoned as it did not match the gender they identified with.


Last year’s “quiet quitting” was replaced by the search for #lazygirljobs, or relaxed jobs with no deadlines, understanding managers, fixed hours and easy pay. It’s not about idling away the day but is a backlash against bossy bosses, inflexible deadlines, high stress and chasing impossible goals. Gen Z is determined to define work to suit them; boomers and millennials would sell their over-mortgaged homes to make sense of this anti-work movement.


In the days of yore, gatekeepers were those with power, who kept people out, and decided who learned what; they monitored the flow of information and wealth. In the world of social media though, it’s taken the meaning of holding back information of any kind, vital or puerile. Declaring that you are not gatekeeping (even though you’d very much like to) proves that you are authentic, another word of the year and an attribute that’s prized online.


Granted that a bland “fine, and you?” when asked “How are you?” is not always healthy when there’s more to say, but at least it guarantees no unexpected oversharing that disregards any impact on the listener. Trauma dumping is not cool and can push people away. If you want to just blow off some steam, try venting instead. It is better for both parties.

Delulu is a word that's back this year.
Delulu is a word that's back this year.


It may have started with K-pop fans getting this to trend on TikTok even almost a decade ago, but this year, it’s managed to reclaim and turn on its head the negative connotation to the word “delusion”: staying delulu, even in the worst of times, is the only way hope holds. In Gen Z netspeak, “it’s giving ‘be positive’”.


“If You Know You Know”—the phrase packs in a whole lot of meaning, a certain winking knowingness, in a neat package. It is a verbal shrug denoting exactly that—an inside knowledge of a phenomenon, ranging from pop-culture references to an emotion or experience that is uncommon but not rare. The use of the abbreviation peaked in 2023.


Borrowed from the worlds of stock trading, sport, and gaming, where W/L indicates a wins to losses ratio, the letters have transcended this purpose, now being adapted as adjectives by Zoomers. W has been pushed to denote something good and cool (a W coffee or a W person for instance), and L to mean the exact opposite. Let’s hope 2024 isn’t an L year.


With two international conflicts raging, you’d be excused for thinking this is about international security and global defence. But lo and behold, this is actually part of new dating jargon: NATO, or Not Attached To An Outcome, is simply put, being open to having fun with meeting people. Sincerity does not require worrying about where things are going, nor does it come with a prescription to chronically hope that each person you meet is The One.


Read the room, but take it up a spiritual notch, with a “vibe check”. Short of vibration, you can (or not) “vibe” with a person or an idea, too.

Also read: The growing appeal of ‘lazy girl’ jobs


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